Recently, the Rwanda Development Board signed an agreement with famed English Premier League football club Arsenal.
The deal made Rwanda the official tourism partner for Arsenal for the next three years.
As part of the partnership dubbed “Visit Rwanda”, the country will gain global exposure through branding on the team’s playing kit, match day advertising at the club’s Emirates Stadium, interview backdrops and the club’s stadium tour.
While the deal has elicited mixed reactions from around the world, it is a bold move by the country to market its tourism sector to a global audience.
From a country that was in extreme turmoil just 25 years ago, it has developed into a beautiful and peaceful destination with a lot to offer to its visitors.
Last year alone, Rwanda played host to 1.3 million visitors, with the sector becoming the country’s largest foreign exchange earner.
It also created employment for 90,000 people over the period. Rwanda plans to double its tourism revenues from $404 million (Sh40.8 billion) today to $800 million (Sh80.8 billion) by 2024. With such a bold marketing strategy, the country is well on its way to achieving this milestone.
Rwanda’s profile was also lifted by last week’s visit by American comedian, actress and television host Ellen DeGeneres who also made a brief stopover in Kenya.
Ellen, one of the most influential people in the world today was in Rwanda as part of the conservation efforts carried out by the Ellen DeGeneres Wildlife Fund in aid of the endangered mountain gorillas.
Her brief stay in Kenya was an incredible opportunity for the Kenya Tourism Board’s Magical Kenya campaign to promote tourism, considering that Ellen through her television show has millions of followers worldwide.
The Rwanda Development Board, on the other hand, grabbed the opportunity with both hands, even organising for President Paul Kagame to meet with Ellen, further raising the country’s profile as the preferred tourist destination on the continent.
Kenya needs to put its house in order if it is to keep up with Rwanda’s resurgene as a tourism power house.
It’s, however, not all doom and gloom for the country, with the economy now on the mend after last year’s downturn following a prolonged electioneering period.
The tourism industry, which is critical to the economy is estimated to have contributed 10 per cent to the GDP over the period. This is testimony that sustained efforts invested in growing the industry are finally paying off. A stable tourism industry means an increase in employment opportunities and better livelihoods for Kenyans in addition to a myriad of other economic benefits for the country.
This growth has obviously not been self-triggering. It has taken sustained and consistent efforts by the Government and tourism industry players, as well as Kenyans of goodwill, to unlock the potential. A key driver of this has been a general positive sentiment about the industry. The political goodwill to support the industry has also played a big role. KTB and the Tourism Ministry have for their part done a commendable job, although a lot more can be done to maximise returns from the crucial sector.
I couldn’t agree more with Tourism Cabinet Secretary Honorable Najib Balala’s sentiments earlier this year at a tourism stakeholders’ forum that digital marketing is the key in the ministry’s strategy of ensuring the sector realises at least three million tourists annually going forward.
The industry has also been piggybacking on other successful events such as various annual global conferences and international sports tournaments to boost Kenya in the global tourism arena.
Tourism receipts increased by 20 per cent to hit Sh119 billion last year from Sh99.7 billion recorded in 2016.
We are on the right track and have compelling tourism products. It is indeed assuring to know that whilst we continue to work towards strengthening Kenya’s unquestionable appeal to its source markets, we have political goodwill to support this growth.
The challenge for us now is sustaining this growth momentum in order to unlock the industry and the economy as a whole. We have to continue aggressively and vigorously marketing our country as the preferred destination not only on the continent but also in the world.
The writer is the Managing Director of Zuri Group Global